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Golden Nuggets: What we've learned since the Carmelo trade...

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Prior to acquiring three-fifths of the Knicks' starting lineup in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, I questioned just how good these new Nuggets would actually be and wondered openly if the Nuggets could hold onto the fifth position in the playoffs. With 36 combined games played by the Nuggets and Knicks since the trade, consider many of those questions answered.

In hindsight, it's easy to deride my immediate post-trade skepticism regarding the new-look Nuggets chances of contending in the 2011 playoffs. With our Nuggets now standing proudly at 12-4 since Melo's departure - and with the Knicks embarrassingly winning just 8 out of 20 games with Melo - it's tempting to say that this trade was a slam dunk in Denver's favor all along.

Remember how things looked back on February 21st when the trade actually went down. Not only did the Nuggets have to incorporate five new "role" players while losing one superstar and one all-star caliber player in the trade, but they would have to do it against Boston, Atlanta and San Antonio at home and on the road at Portland, Phoenix, Utah, New Orleans, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami...all the places the Nuggets historically lose in.

Additionally, the Knicks weren't exactly Eastern Conference barnstormers with the now-Nuggets Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov playing nightly in Madison Square Garden. Before the big trade went down, the Knicks had lost 11 of 16 games and were barely limping along in the cellar of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. I, and many others, couldn't understand how the core cast of a mediocre Eastern Conference team could translate into instant success in the much, much more competitive Western Conference.

But with the post-Melo Nuggets now 12-4 and the with-Melo Knicks imploding to the tune of 8-12, we've learned the following...

...we underestimated how negatively the Melodrama affected the Knicks.
Before the trade was consummated, the Melodrama didn't just threaten to ruin the Nuggets entire 2010-11 season, but it threatened to ruin the Knicks season, too. Even though the Knicks lost 11 of 16 games prior to the trade's completion, they were actually pretty good before that at 22-15 (on pace to win 49 games). Why the sudden spate of losing from their 38th game onward? That was right around when the East-Coast-media-disseminated trade rumors were trickling out and most assuredly had a negative affect on the Knicks' morale. Remember, Felton had been successful as a starter, Gallo was Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni's disciple (D'Antoni played pro ball in Italy alongside Gallo's father) and Chandler was rumored to be reticent about coming to Denver. The thought of being dealt from Madison Square Garden to the Pepsi Center couldn't have set well with these guys back in January and such thoughts likely led to Felton's drop off in production, Gallo's hesitant play and Chandler's erratic shooting before the deal went through.

...the with-Melo Knicks have become the Nuggets of 2004 through 2011.
In the post-Melo world, the Nuggets are 7-3 against plus-.500 teams with all three losses coming on the road. The new-look Nuggets are also 5-1 against sub-.500 teams with that lone loss coming on the road. Conversely, the Knicks are a woefully awful 2-8 against sub-.500 teams while somehow being 6-4 against plus-.500 teams. Meaning, the Knicks are doing today what the Melo-led Nuggets did for years in Denver: get up for the good teams while allowing bad teams to hang around. Remember all those blown fourth-quarter leads the Nuggets had this season with Melo on-board? Now, in Melo's absence the Nuggets have beaten sub-.500 teams by an average of 25 points per game in their five victories against the NBA's bottom feeders. Great players win the games they're supposed to win.

...George Karl can coach circles around Mike D'Antoni.
It must be nice to have two "superstars" and one former perennial All-Star on your roster while getting to play the Bucks three times, the Cavaliers twice, the Pacers twice, and the Pistons and Bobcats once apiece. And yet D'Antoni has nothing to show for being the beneficiary of such easy scheduling...in addition to having nothing to show for the first half of the season when he had the players now wearing Nuggets uniforms playing predominantly against Eastern Conference teams. Karl, meanwhile, has been able to win with players D'Antoni couldn't and was able to win with Melo even when #15 was disgruntled, distracted and distant with his coaches and teammates. In fact, Karl should arguably win the NBA's Coach of the Year Award for overcoming adversity in every possible way and putting together one of the Nuggets' finer seasons in franchise history. 

...the Knicks offer was immeasurably better than the Nets offer.
Jeff Morton tackled this one in Monday's Golden Nuggets, but it can't be stated enough. To many (including the Nuggets front office reportedly), the Nets trade seemed more appealing because it put the Nuggets in a position to rebuild with Derrick Favors and a truckload of future first round picks. But to Karl and others, maintaining the Nuggets competitiveness was more important. We only need to look at the Utah Jazz who parted with Deron Williams for Favors, Devin Harris and two of those picks to see just how bad that Nets trade would have been for Denver. Not only have the Jazz disappeared from playoff contention, but they lost at home to the Wizards on Monday night.

...I have a well-intentioned but probably overly negative opinion of the Eastern Conference.
I fundamentally believe that the Eastern Conference is a @#$% joke and that the Rockets, Suns, Jazz, Warriors and Clippers (yes, and the Warriors and Clippers) would all be playoff teams if they played in that junior varsity conference. You know, the one that will have not one but two sub-.500 teams in the playoffs, including one that will probably be 10 games under the .500 mark. The point? The point is that I didn't see how the new Nugget players could be that good if they were barely able to compete in a vastly inferior conference. But again, I underestimated how much the Melodrama destroyed the ex-Knicks' collective psyche prior to the deal getting done.

...Carmelo Anthony is a high-maintenance superstar.
This won't be news to anyone who follows the Nuggets closely, but Denver fans and its sports media largely put up with and defended Melo's antics because we were just happy to have a team on the NBA map again when Melo arrived in 2003. And make no mistake about it, Melo deserves major props for the making the Nuggets relevant again for the first time in ten years. But he's a chore to coach and can be a pain in the ass to play with, and all of Melo's flaws have been on full display under the spotlight that is the New York media. Every antic, every word, every action, every innuendo is dissected and over-dissected. And Melo, you can't say we didn't warn you about all this

...what a difference a little confidence and a little coaching makes. 
The new Nuggets are damn good players. And one of them - Mozgov - can't even get a lick of playing time and yet he might have the biggest upside of the foursome acquired from New York. Chandler, Gallo, Felton and Mozgov could have been just as special in New York as they've been in Denver had they been coached properly and been given a vote of confidence from their organization. Instead, they were forced into the pressure cooker that is New York City all they while being ensnared in the Melodrama without either the coaching or the confidence needed to navigate through it all.

Even though it's been thrilling to watch the new-look Nuggets rack up blowout wins while engaging in the guilty pleasure of watching the Knicks implode with Melo wearing a blue and orange #7 jersey, I maintain that the Knicks will be fine down the road. Recent comparisons of Melo to Stephon Marbury by members of the New York media is simply unfair and premature, just as its premature of us to declare an overwhelming one-sided victory in this deal.

That said, Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri memorably proclaimed that the Nuggets "got killed" in the Melo deal, and for now it sure is tempting to think it's the other way around.

On to the links...

After promising start to Knicks career, Carmelo Anthony shows signs of being Stephon Marbury 2.0
Meet Stephon Marbury 2.0, better known as Carmelo Anthony, says Ebenezer Samuel. 

Chauncey Billups may not have option picked up by Knicks - NYPOST.com
According to Marc Berman, Chauncey Billups could be playing himself off next season's team and out of a whopping $14.3 million final-season payday. 

Nuggets winning without a superstar ... but for how long? | NBA.com
Shaun Powell questions whether or not the Nuggets can sustain their winning ways well into the future.

NBA: Who has the best supporting cast? - ESPN
According to John Hollinger's formula, the Heat have the worst supporting cast in the NBA and our Nuggets have the best.

Mike D'Antoni needs to adjust offense to Carmelo Anthony's strengths for Knicks to turn it around
Mike Lupica writes that the Knicks are back to playing unwatchable basketball again, even with talents like Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire on their side.

NBA free agency: Top free agents - ESPN
Longing for summer? Chad Ford breaks down the biggest names available on the free-agent market.

Jimmermania? No Thanks  - ESPN
Rick Reilly is being his usual asshole-ish self by writing an asshole-ish column picking on BYU's Jimmer Fredette. Fredette may not be the second coming of Pete Maravich, but doesn't Reilly have better things to do than pick on a 22 year old Mormon kid who played his ass off for BYU?